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How to Build a DNA Molecule for a School Project

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 2/17/2013

Confused about how to build a DNA molecule? School project DNA models can be a lot of fun to create, and you can use your originality to create a fun model out of almost any materials.

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    The Basics of a DNA Molecule

    In order to build a DNA molecule for a school project, it is important to understand its components. The main components are the pentose sugar and phosphate molecules that run along the edges, and the four types of nucleotide bases that connect them - adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. Adenine and thymine bases are paired together, and cytosine and guanine bases are paired together. The bases always connect to the sugar molecules on the outer strands. These components and how they are arranged will determine how you build your model of a DNA molecule.

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    Possible Materials

    You can use almost any materials when building a DNA molecule for a science project, and this article has several creative ideas you can use to build a unique DNA model. You can use candies such as string licorice for the long strands and gummies for the nucleotide bases, you can use long pipe cleaners for the long strands and short pipe cleaners for the bases, or you can use foam balls in different colors to represent each type of component and toothpicks to connect them together. Other possible materials include shoelaces, ropes, or slinkies for the long strands, and blocks, small balls, or colored erasers for the nucleotide bases. You can also use painted tin foil or playdough to create the entire DNA molecule.

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    Labeling Your Model

    It is important to label your model clearly so that the judges of your science project will understand what you have built. Use large lettering, typed or printed clearly on white paper. If your model is color coded, with each component a different color, you can print your labels in colors that match the component they are labeling. If you used foam balls or play dough in your DNA molecule, you can attach the labels with toothpicks; otherwise, you should use strong glue or clear tape to make sure that your labels stay on securely.

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    Mistakes to Avoid

    There are several mistakes you want to avoid when you build a DNA model. School project guidelines should never be ignored, so make sure that you check about whether they address including a "thank you" section for the people who helped you with your project, a "sources" section that gives the references that you used to create it, or any other information that you might forget to include. Also, check the size limitations on visual displays, and make sure to design your DNA model accordingly.

    If you are making your DNA model out of edible materials, make sure that they are non-perishable, especially if you are building your DNA model a while before the science fair or demonstration. And most importantly, make sure that your labels are clear and easily readable for anyone looking at your model.